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Starting play Throws
Ball rules Officials
Fouls and misconduct Equipment


Objective: Water polo is played by two teams of up to thirteen players a side, although only seven players from each team may be in the water at one time. The game takes place in a pool 30 metres by 20 metres (98 by 65 feet). Goals are scored when the ball goes into the opposing teams net.

Play lasts for four periods of seven minutes. There is a two minute interval between each period for changing ends. If there is a tie and a result is required, there is a five minute break, then two periods of three minutes with a one minute break between. This continues until a result is reached.


Staring and restarting play

Players take up position on their own goal line (2 metres from the edge of the pool) about 1 metre (3 feet) apart from either goal post. Only two players are allowed between the posts. One referee then blows the whistle and throws the ball into the pool.

After a goal, player may take up any position in their own half. The team conceding the goal restarts play on the whistle, by one player passing the ball to a member of their team, who must be in their own teams half of the pool upon receiving the ball. The line at the halfway point of the pool is called the half-distance line.

After a stoppage, for injury, or after a simultaneous foul by two opponents, the ball is thrown into the water giving both teams a chance to get possession.

Except in the case of accident or injury, substitutes can only enter the game during the interval after a goal, before extra time, or after a team member has been permanently excluded. The team captain must inform the referee of all substitutions. No substitutions are allowed if a player is removed for violent play.

Ball rules

A goal is scored when the ball completely crosses the goal line between the posts and under the crossbar, as long as it has not been punched, and at least two players have touched it after a start or restart, not including a goalkeeper.

Apart from the goalkeeper, players cannot touch the ball with both hands at the same time, or strike it with a fist. They can dribble the ball (swim along and pushing it at the same time), lift the ball out of the water, stay still with the ball, and pass or shoot the ball. If a shot on goal is not made within 35 seconds of a team getting the ball, a free throw is awarded to the other team.

A goalkeeper may stand, jump from the floor of the pool, walk, use both hands, and punch the ball. Goalkeepers must not go beyond or touch the ball beyond the half-distance line, but can shoot at the opponents goal, providing this is done from their own half of the pool.

The ball is out of play when it hits the side of the ball and goes back into the water, goes out of the pool from the side, or completely crosses the goal line at the ends of the pool, whether it scores a goal or not.

In the first two cases, the ball is put back in play by the nearest opposing player who takes a free throw from where the ball went out. If the ball goes out of play over the goal line, a goal throw is awarded. If a defender sends the ball over their own goal line, a corner throw is awarded.

Fouls and misconduct

Offences are categorised as ordinary fouls (penalized with a free throw to the opposing team), and major fouls (penalized with personal faults and players being excluded from the game).

Ordinary fouls

- take or hold the ball under water when tackled

- swim past the goal line before the game starts

- assist a player at the start

- hold onto or push off from the goal posts or the sides of the pool

- hold onto the rails, except at the start or a restart

- stand or walk on the floor of the pool

- punch the ball

- touch the ball from referee's neutral throw before it gets to the water

- jump from the floor of the pool

- deliberately impede an opponent, unless they have the ball

- play the ball with both hands at the same time

- push an opponent

- be within 2 metres of the opposing goal line, except when behind the line of the ball

- waste time (including possessing the ball for more than 35 seconds without shooting at goal

- take a penalty throw incorrectly

Major fouls

- Kick or strike an opponent

- illegally stop a goal inside the 4 metre area (4 metres from the goal line)

- hold, sink, or pull back an opponent not holding the ball

- interfere with the taking of a free throw

- entering the water when either excluded or a substitute

- deliberately splash water in an opponent's face

- repeatedly commit ordinary fouls

After a major foul, the offending player is given a personal fault and also ordered out of the water for 35 seconds, until a goal is scored, or until the defending team take possession of the ball, whichever is sooner.

A player is permanently excluded from the game after receiving three personal faults or penalties against them. A substitute cannot replace a player with personal faults until they are excluded from the game.

Advantage rule
The referees may decide not to stop play after a foul if they decide that the non-offending team would benefit more by play being allowed to continue.


Corner throw
Taken by the attacker nearest the point where the ball went out of play, from the 2 metre line, at the side of the pool where the ball went out. Only the defending goalkeeper can be inside the 2 metre area.

Free throw
The player taking it can throw or drop the ball and then dribble it before passing. The throw must be made so that the other players can see the ball leaving the thrower's hand. At least two players must touch the ball before a goal can be scored. Any free throw awarded for a foul in the 2 metre area must be taken from the 2 metre line opposite where the foul took place. Other free throws are taken from the point where the offence occurred.

Goal throw
Taken by the defending goalkeeper. It is taken from the goal line, between the posts.

Penalty throw
Awarded for the following major fouls in the 4 metre area:

- holding, sinking, or pulling back an opponent who is not holding the ball
- kicking or striking an opponent
- committing a foul that prevents a probable goal
- violent acts anywhere in the pool

Any player on the non-offending team except the goalkeeper may take the penalty throw from any point along the 4 metre line. The ball must be thrown directly at goal. All players except the defending goalkeeper must be out of the 4 metre area, and no player is to go within 2 metres of the thrower. The goalkeeper must remain on the goal line until the throw is taken.


The game is controlled by between five and seven officials. Two referees use a whistle and a stick, fitted with a white flag on one end, and a blue flag on the other. They stop and start the game, decide fouls, goals, and throws. They can also order players out of the water. They are positioned outside the pool, at opposite sides.

There are two goal judges who each have a white flag to signal goal throws and a red flag to signal corner throws. Both flags are raised for a goal. They are positioned at each end of the pool opposite the referees, directly level with the goal line.

Timekeepers, who monitor the times of play and use whistles to indicate the end of periods, and to indicate when a team has been in possession of the ball for more than 35 seconds without making a shot on goal.

Secretaries, who record major fouls and signal with a red flag when any player is awarded a third personal foul. They also signal when an excluded player can return to the game.


Players wear trunks, and one side will wear white caps, the other side blue. Goalkeepers wear red caps. All caps are tied beneath the chin, and if a player loses it, they must replace it in the next stoppage. Caps are numbered 1 for the goalkeeper and 2 to 13 for the other players. No dangerous articles (like jewellery may be worn), and body oil or grease is not allowed.

The pool area is 30 metres by 20 metres (98 by 65 feet), with a minimum competition depth of 1.8 metres (6 feet). Lines are painted below the surface, to be visible throughout the game. Usual colours are white for the goal and half-distance line, red for the 2 metre line, yellow for the 4 metre line. Goals are painted white.

The ball is round, and inflatable. It is also waterproof. The circumference is 68 to 71 centimetres (26 to 28 inches), and weighs between 400 and 450 grams (14 and 16 ounces).

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